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Contradictions emerge during Opry arson trial
Updated on: 01.29.14

On the witness stand Tuesday, former Little Nashville Opry owner Esther Hamilton stated that neither she nor the country music venue were in financial trouble.

“I never owed a dime when the Opry burned,” she said.

On Wednesday, Alan Strange, a forensic auditor with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) testified otherwise.

He said Hamilton and the Opry owed roughly $1.5 million in short- and long-term loans and operating expenses such as utilities, insurance and performer fees on Sept. 19, 2009. That was the day someone poured an ignitable liquid on and near the Opry stage and lit it on fire.

At the same time, the five Opry banking accounts contained a total of about $8,500, according to the ATF.

On day five of testimony, Prosecutor Jim Oliver focused on the gambling habits of Hamilton and the person she called her best friend, 77-year-old James D. Bowyer.

Bowyer is the former Opry business manager on trial for allegedly starting the fire that destroyed the Opry.

Oliver asked Strange to explain his findings from four Indiana casinos. The ATF officer said records from 2005 to 2009 show that Hamilton visited the casinos on 816 days. She spent $4.2 million and lost $152,000.

During the same time frame, Bowyer lost $163,000, while betting $1.7 million during 650 visits, according to Strange.

Hamilton testified that Bowyer did not gamble. She added that she gambled just “a couple times a month” when she got the chance.

Throughout the trial, defense attorney John Boren asked multiple witnesses if they were aware that Hamilton suffered a stroke in May 2013. Those who knew about the stroke indicated that the effects of it continue to linger.

On cross examination of Strange, Boren wanted to know if his investigation showed any evidence that Bowyer owned stock in Little Nashville Enterprises or contracted with the corporation that owned the Opry. Strange answered no to both matters.

Boren got Strange to say that the burning of the Opry differed in outcome from the sale of the Opry. A sale would have resulted in Bowyer receiving roughly $300,000, according to four promissory notes Bowyer wrote that were salvaged from the fire debris.

Strange also agreed that the Opry could have been rebuilt from the more than $3 million in insurance proceeds if the claim had been paid out.

The insurance money was never awarded. A judge ruled in favor of the insurance company because more than 50 percent of the sprinkler system had been dismantled, according to court records.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 8:30 a.m. Thursday. Oliver said he plans to rest the state’s side of the case by midday.

Read more in the Feb. 5 issue of the Brown County Democrat.

Obituaries
See Full List »

Pamela Jo (Brown) Black, 58, Franklin
  Mother of Bryan Black (Tara Hammons) of Brown County

Tad Heminger, 70, Franklin
  Former Brown County resident

Violet Rose “Toots” Wilkerson, 94, Bloomington
  Mother of Ernest Wilkerson (Ricki) of Brown County

  • May 23
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • May 23
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Abe Martin Lodge, Brown County State Park
  • May 23
    Yard and bake sale at North Salem Methodist church
    9 a.m. to 2 p.m. North Salem Methodist church, 7718 State Road 46 East
  • May 23
    Art class set for fourth Saturday at winery
    3 to 5 p.m. Chateau Thomas Winery, Coachlight Square, 225 S. Van Buren St.
  • May 23
    Studebaker Nationals, Spring Classic Saturday at BC Dragway
    Gates open at 9 a.m. B.C. Dragway, 480 Gatesville Rd., Bean Blossom
  • May 23
    Morel Mushroom sale to benefit local charities
    9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Brown County IGA parking lot, 30 Hawthorne Dr.
  • May 23
    Saturday at Brown County State Park
    10 a.m., 11 a.m., 7:30 p.m. Brown County State Park, 1450 State Road 46 East (north entrance)
  • May 23
    Yard sale at church includes crafts and baked goods
    9 a.m. to 3 p.m. BC Community Church, 2370 Main St., Helmsburg
  • May 23
    "Woman in Gold" at the Playhouse
    4 p.m., 7 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • May 23
    Live music at bar
    7 to 9 p.m., 9:30 to 11:30 p.m. Big Busted Bar, 44 N. Van Buren St.
  • May 23
    Live music at winery
    7 to 10 p.m. Chateau Thomas Winery, Coachlight Square, 225 S. Van Buren St.
  • May 23
    Live band at sports bar
    8 p.m. Salt Creek Golf Retreat, 2359 State Road 46 East
  • May 23
    Live band at dance barn
    8 p.m. Mike's Dance Barn, 2277 State Road 46 West
  • May 24
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    10 a.m. to noon Brown County State Park, State Road 46 East
  • May 24
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    Noon to 2 p.m. Brown County State Park, State Road 46 East
  • May 25
    Government Offices CLOSED
  • May 26
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • May 26
    BC Area Plan Commission CANCELED
    County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • May 26
    Open 12-step meeting in New Bellsville area
    8 p.m. Harmony Baptist Church, 3999 Mt. Liberty Road, New Bellesville
  • May 27
    Jeff Foster at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • May 27
    BC Sheriff's Merit Board
    4 p.m. Sheriff's Office, Law Enforcement Center, 55 State Road 46 East
  • May 27
    BC Board of Zoning Appeals
    6 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • May 28
    Go Club at the library
    3:30 to 5 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • May 29
    Farmers market reopens in Bean Bean Blossom
    4 p.m. St. David's Episcopal Church, 11 State Road 45 at 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • May 29
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • May 29
    Gospel jubilee at Redbarn
    8 p.m. RedBarn Jamboree, 71 Parkview Road off 46 East
  • May 30
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • May 30
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Brown County State Park, State Road 46 East
  • May 30
    Comedy tour at the Playhouse
    7:30 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • May 31
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    10 a.m. to noon Abe Martin Lodge, Brown County State Park
  • June 2
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • June 2
    Open 12-step meeting in New Bellsville area
    8 p.m. Harmony Baptist Church, 3999 Mt. Liberty Road, New Bellesville
  • June 2
    Bean Blossom Sewer Board
    6:30 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • June 3
    Jeff Foster at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • June 4
    Go Club at the library
    3:30 to 5 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • June 4
    WRAPS
    7 to 9 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • June 4
    Gospel jam & sing first Thursday in Gnaw Bone
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Church, 5181 State Road 46 East
  • June 5
    Strawberry fest during farmers market
    4 p.m. St. David's Episcopal Church, 11 State Road 45 at 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • June 5
    Bingo
    5 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • June 5
    Gospel jubilee at Redbarn
    8 p.m. RedBarn Jamboree, 71 Parkview Road, off 46 East
  • June 6
    Shrine parade celebrates summer
    11 a.m. downtown Nashville
  • June 7
    Read to dogs at the library
    2 to 3:30 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • June 11
    Gospel jam & sing at Gnaw Bone church
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Church, 5181 State Road 46 East
  • June 12
    BC photography club
    7 to 9 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • June 13
    Free community breakfast at Sprunica church
    8 to 10 a.m. Sprunica Baptist Church, 3902 Sprunica Road
  • June 13
    Open house conducted at New Song
    9 to 11 a.m. New Song Mission, 7202 Keith Donaldson Road, Freetown
  • June 15
    Essential oil class at tea shop
    6 p.m. Sweetea's Tea Shop, 225 S. Van Buren St., Suite C, Coachlight Square
  • June 17
    Hamblen Fire District
    7 p.m. Hamblen Fire Station, 4650 Sweetwater Trail, Gatesville
  • June 20
    Rock & mineral club
    6 p.m. Extension Office, 802 Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds
  • June 20
    Pollinator Awareness Day at state park Nature Center
    9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Brown County State Park, 1450 State Road 46 East (north entrance)
  • July 11
    Health fair at the YMCA
    8 a.m. to noon YMCA, 105 Willow St.